The Disease that Has Infected English Football

Why can’t officials get the big decisions right?

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John Terry Chelsea 2009/10

Last weekend proved once again the appalling standard of refereeing in England. Shocking mistakes in both FA Cup semi-finals left both defeated teams, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur, feeling unjust after officiating more woeful than the Wembley turf.

80,000 fans inside the stadium and spectators around the world saw John Obi Mikel bring down Gabriel Agbonlahor for a stone-walled penalty, except for England’s embarrassingly labeled ‘top referee’ Howard Webb. To make things worse for Villa, John Terry’s hugely dangerous tackle on James Milner was only worthy of a yellow card according to the official who will represent England in this summer’s World Cup.

Similarly, Spurs were given neither of two hand-ball incidents in the box involving Portsmouth’s Steve Finnan, though Alan Wiley was able to see something that nobody else did, an apparent foul by Niko Kranjcar on keeper David James, disallowing Peter Crouch’s goal with the score at 1-0. And to rub salt into the wounds, eagle-eyed Wiley felt that Wilson Palacios had fouled Aruna Dindane inside the area. Not only did the Honduran win the ball but he was booked for the incident, his 10th of the season, meaning he will now miss Spurs’ crunch games against Arsenal and Chelsea in their bid for fourth-place.

There is no other job in the world that would allow so many crucial mistakes to go unpunished. No, in this profession you can make unlimited errors, toy with millions of fan’s emotions and not even have to come out to justify your decisions. In fact, if a professional voices his opinion of you, he will receive a hefty fine and often a ban for good measure, whether right or wrong.

Like Wigan boss Roberto Martinez, who committed the crime of calling referee Stuart Atwell “a liar” after Gary Caldwell was given a red card that changed the complexion of the game against Manchester City. Mr Atwell told Martinez and Wigan skipper Mario Melchiot that he “had seen Caldwell jump off the ground with both feet”, though replays showed that he slid in with just one foot, and took the ball. The FA’s response: Martinez charged with improper conduct, Mr Atwell continues to referee Premiership football as normal.

It is no coincidence that, each year, the standard of football improves but the standard of refereeing plummets. The FA’s system is reminiscent of a dictatoristic government, where freedom of opinion is banished for fear of punishment. Ridiculous propaganda campaigns such as ‘Respect (to referees)’ initiated in the 2008/09 season is designed to protect officials instead of creating ways of motivating them to improve.

The rare occasion when action was taken against poor officiating occurred last Saturday when referee Mike Dean was demoted to the Championship after a shocking display between Manchester United and Chelsea. It did not come as a shock to many that it was the pressure applied by Sir Alex Ferguson that dealt Dean the knockout blow despite poor performances in previous weeks.

The sad truth of today’s football culture in this country is that if someone makes an independent claim that they have been aggrieved, fans will follow the dismissive, ‘politically correct’ media that discourages this way of thinking, dismissing them as ‘mad’ or ‘delusional’ and as a result their claims are eventually swallowed up by time, just as the FA want. That is why managers tend to sugar-coat their views in case they say something out of line about the FA’s beloved officials.

We see it on TV and read it in the papers, illiterate ex-footballers who call themselves journalists and do not have a mind of their own when asked about a key decision in a game, the most frequent answers seem to be as useless as, “I’ve seen those given”, “he falls a bit too easily there”, “he didn’t have a good view of it”, which leave us with more questions than answers. It is they who feed the minds of football fans whose views are easily influenced, infecting their minds with common dribble in the process.

The more we encourage independent thinking, the more we will see improvements in our game and less control by the individuals that run it now.

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